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Medical Errors Make News More Than Ever

Numerous articles recently in the press have dealt with the issue of Medical mistakes. The articles center around the growing numbers of errors, damage and death due to those errors, and attempts at reducing them. The reactions to these problems have prompted congressional action and activity by government agencies to track the incidence of medical errors.

The March 5, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report entitled, "Incidence and Preventability of Adverse Drug Events Among Older Persons in the Ambulatory Setting". In this study researchers evaluated the records of more than 27,000 patients seen in a large, multi-specialty group practice in New England over a 12 month period between July 1, 1999, and June 30, 2000. The results showed that there were 1523 identified adverse drug events, of which 27.6%(421) were considered by the researchers to be preventable. The overall rate of adverse drug events was 50.1 per 1000 persons, per year. Of the adverse drug events, 578 (38.0%) were categorized as serious, life-threatening, or fatal.

The researchers also projected these figures nation wide. Using these calculations they concluded that with the total number of Medicare enrollees in the U.S. being approximately 38 million people, it would be estimated that there would be more than 1.9 million adverse drug events each year, with more than one quarter being preventable. Researchers further stated, " there are in excess of 180,000 life-threatening or fatal adverse drug events per year, of which more than 50% may be preventable" they further noted that, "these estimates are likely to be conservative."

The Ivanhoe Newswire ran a story on March 14, 2003 that stated that the US Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) proposes rules to curb medical errors. The new rules will require bar coding on medications and improved reporting requirements for safety problems that involve medicine. The required bar code would contain a National Drug Code number, identifying information about the drug. The proposed rule would apply to all prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and vaccines. Another proposed amendment by the FDA would require companies to submit all reports they receive of actual and potential medication errors to the FDA within 15 calendar days.

News from Mar. 12, 2003 that appeared in numerous reports including the Associated Press reported from Washington DC that the US House of Representatives passed a bill to create a voluntary system to track medical errors. It also promises confidentiality to hospitals and doctors and assurances the information will not go to lawyers for use in malpractice suits. The US Senate has not acted on a similar measure. The article also noted that the Institute of Medicine has said that medical errors contribute to more than 1 million injuries and up to 98,000 deaths annually.